Sunday, June 4, 2017

Earth to US on climate change: urgent need for a new approach

A DC-based policy group asked: what should we do now about climate after Trump dissed the Paris climate words? My reply:
To address this policy issue in a constructive way, as with many policy issues, it helps to start with the question: is there hope of a positive way forward here? Can we think of a positive way forward consistent with the most basic values of the key decision maker we are looking at in this moment, which in this case is Donald Trump?
Trump has stated that he is not (currently) taking a stand against constructive action on climate change, but that the Paris agreement was a bad deal. He said something like: “I now invite climate change people, including even Democrats, to come work with me on something more effective.” After the experience with health care, it is understandable that many people have reason not to take him at his word, but if we do not try to take the moral highground here we will share in the blame for what happens, which in my view could kill us all.
It is understandable that many people believe that climate change is not important enough to distract us from other more serious issues, such as the dangers of new wars, especially serious when some folks would push us into a war between US and Israel versus Russia and Iran, in much the same way as they calmly pushed us into a war with Iraq under Cheney. In 2009, working for Senator Specter (one of the few people who gave priority to the search for truth over PR advocacy for selected external groups), I was impressed by the conclusions of the International IPPC effort, which estimated that “business as usual” energy policy would result in a 5% loss to world GNP in 2100 due to climate change — not exactly a matter of life or death to the world as a whole.
However, there were serious loose ends in everyone’s understanding back then, and I did wonder about John Kerry’s forceful argument that we should pay serious attention to the “25% probability that Hansen might be right, that the Antarctic might start to melt, resulting in sea level damage much worse than the base case.” Kerry argued “even a 25% probability of something that bad requires.. precautionary principle.” In the second half of my recent paper,, I review the new information which has forced me to be MUCH more worried now. A big crack is starting to fissure right now, this month, in the Antarctic, following Hansen’s worst case scenario (as did the retirement process applied to Hansen himself) — and, even worse, the crucial currents which bring oxygen to the Pacific ocean have shut down. THE PROBLEM IS NOT GLOBAL WARMING; THE PROBLEM IS ANTARCTIC WARMING. So far as I know, global warming elsewhere is a problem no more serious than what IPCC IV depicted, on the whole, but Antarctic warming has the potential to literally kill all humans on earth, if one looks with hard eyes at the system of system effects in operation now.
And so: if President Trump wants to do something more useful than the Paris accords, focused directly on keeping us all alive at minimum possible cost, he does have an opportunity to work with Democrats to take positive action, to propose a new international partnership on something much smaller on cost but much bigger on value. More precisely, he could offer to lead a new international coalition apply the Teller/Caldeira/Wood geoengineering scheme NOT to cool the earth, but specifically to cool the Antarctic, under a strategic effort focused on restoring the oxygen-bringing ocean currents at the soonest possible time.
Of course, Ed Teller was far from a fuzzy-headed left winger. If anyone here does not know his name, I sure hope you will do a web search; even dead, he is still a person whom everyone in energy should know about. Lowell Wood, his former science advisor, is still alive, and I have often hoped that Trump would consider him for OSTP — someone compatible with Trump’s general attitudes but deeply competent. At
, an important site for energy and environment research, it is reported that total global cooling by geoengineering would cost only $700 million per year. That may be low (as most cost estimates at this stage are, for aerospace projects or for nuclear power plants, etc.), but compare that with the $500 billion per year in substantive “allowances” which the Obama climate bills would have given out.
People who wanted that $500 billion per year were understandably violently worried about the risk that right-wingers would do something so cheap instead (even if geoengineering the Antarctic ended up costing, say, $2 billion per year to be split across all the nations now working together in Antarctica). Would this hurt the politics of the effort to get other larger actions, such as laws which force greater use of renewable energy? But maybe we have wasted too much energy on political double-think and triple-think. Yes, if Trump offers this to Democrats, some of them may object because of such calculations, but by taking the moral highground and making the offer sincere and visible to everyone, the worst risk would be that he would strengthen his position politically. Those of us who truly recognize the nature and urgency of the problem would not hesitate to save our lives, regardless of other considerations. (Waxman type bills are not the most realistic way to move renewables faster in any case.)
Does anyone see any hope of making this kind of middle way opportunity more visible in serious political circles? Or will we just waste our time in useless ego wars and mutual posturing? I wish Specter were still part of this game, but if anyone knows Murkowski or Collins or Cantwell…

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